Déjà vu: Bills Special Teams and D Carry O to Win

<B>In a Sentence: </B> <P> This Bills team manages to dangle just enough of a carrot in front of fans and media to justify absurd notions of playoff competitiveness along with Humpty's viability yet not nearly enough to indicate their ability to compete with playoff caliber teams.

Game Grades:

QB: C- Many will react to Humpty's rating in this game. He had a solid second quarter, 9-of-13 for 162 yards, and a poor second half and first quarter. Other than the second quarter, Humpty went 6-for-11 for 13 net yards, a touchdown set up at the Ram 5-yard line, a sack, and an interception throughout the other three-quarters of play. Plain and simple. Other than McGahee's 41-yard run, the offense moved the ball for fewer than 70 net yards in the entire second half.

Humpty nearly had two other interceptions for which it was extremely fortunate that they were not. The one that he did throw in the first half was a poorly overthrown ball setting the Rams up for their first TD to put them ahead by 10. Add to that several completions that were purely attributable to the receivers on poorly thrown balls and the rating is inflated. Consider that the Rams have no defense even worthy of note and it says nothing. Far "less renowned" QBs have performed much better this season vs. the Rams. As stated in the pre-game piece, this Ram D is far from a playoff caliber defense. Bring on Losman!

RB: C Willis McGahee simply does not impress me to date. He had one superb run on the game for 41 yards during which he hurdled a defender down the left sideline and had a TD negated due to Lee Evans' holding call bringing the play back 10 yards from the spot of the foul which occurred at the Rams' 8-yard line. To the penalty's credit, it is very conceivable that had he not been held, the defender would have been in position to push McGahee out of bounds.

Other than that his single longest run was 13 yards all of which was prior to contact on space that a Hummer could have driven through. His 11-yarder was identical. He did absolutely nothing "spectacular" other than a ‘hurdle.' He did less than Travis Henry typically does overall and has done in the past. In fact, I have a difficult time imagining that Travis Henry would not have performed much better yesterday. Again, this is not what the Bills were hoping to see with McGahee's drafting. More is expected indicative that McGahee is clearly not near where he needs to be prior to unequivocally replacing Henry if he is to do so.

To put things in perspective, the Bills only had more rushing yards as a team vs. the Rams than Arizona, San Francisco, and Tampa Bay, three teams neither known for offense nor their rushing prowess. The Bills rushed for more than the Dolphins, but only by two yards. Emmitt Smith had 16 carries for 87 yards with a long of 15 yards for the Cards on the road in St. Louis, a much more consistent performance.

But again, this offense vs. this woeful Ram defense should have been able to move the ball much more effectively on the ground than 12 carries for 39 yards (3.3 yard-per-carry average) through the first 42 minutes in this one. Other than the 41-yarder, McGahee barely cracked the 3.0 yard-per-carry mark.

I have already received e-mails reminding me of the absurdly oversimplified notion that "when McGahee rushes for 100 yards the Bills are 4-0." Why is it that this necessarily translates to the fact that it was McGahee who was responsible for those win instead of visa versa, with McGahee's rushing production more resultant from the Bills having been wildly ahead in two cases? The truth is that McGahee's rushing yards have less contributed to Bills wins than they have resulted from the Bills being in favorable situations that afford them the ability to run the ball.

If McGahee were so instrumental in "winning games", then he would have more than three touchdowns in those games, and then in some games other than Arizona who is terrible on the road and then only on special teams-defense setups on drives beginning at midfield and again with the Bills up by 24 late in the game with a set up at the Cards' 30-yard line!

Where are the long sustained drives beginning in our own territory to take time off the clock?
Where are the numerous power-punch-ins from short and goal?
Where is the powerhouse dragging of defenders down the field as many say he does?

McGahee mostly has 100-yard games to date due to favorable circumstances and teams with rushing defenses ranked horribly and for no other reason. He is a product of those circumstances, not a reason for them as Henry was in '02 and ‘03. Many a running back without the name have outperformed McGahee vs. those same teams this season and standout Sammy Morris has performed equally in several games as well as a single example.

And oh, just by the way, in games where Travis Henry has rushed for 100 yards the Bills are 7-4 with three of those losses being directly attributable to Humpty's miscues, errors, and bumbling play. As well, Henry has not had anything close to the special teams play that McGahee has had this season often carrying the entire offensive/scoring load on his back alone! He has also averaged over 5.3 yards-per-carry in doing so while putting up over one touchdown-per-game in games where those TDs mattered and contributed to wins, not simply putting icing on the cake of a game won two quarters ago. Additionally, Henry has not always had the luxury of putting those 100-yard games up at home entirely or vs. the absolute worst defensive teams with bottom rushing defenses.

So until Willis can match that, I'm sticking with Henry as my long-term option at RB!

McGahee has scored only two touchdowns that have mattered, struggles in short goal-to-go situations as well as on short 3rd-down situations midfield. His per carry average is below 4.0 and nearly a yard-and-a-half worse than Henry's in 100-yard games. He also has yet to match Henry's long run in '03 or even come close. He's had more support from the coaching staff, more options and tools around him, "better" offensive coaches, and special teams and defensive play setting him up such as Henry's never seen. Henry could control and dominate a game even with Humpty playing Santa Claus and in spite of it. McGahee has yet to do that regardless of oversimplified analyses of his numbers.

It always amazes me when the critics site statistics as "meaningless" or otherwise inconsequential or mitigated when the argument can only be made via a high-level view of them without any sort of breakdown analysis. McGahee is a fan favorite so come hell or high water, he will "succeed" this season with the truth and factual data being swept aside. At present, Henry is a proven better RB! Hands down! McGahee has six games vs. some really pathetic opponents to "improve himself" apart from the media and fan push. Whether he can do that remains to be seen.

WR: C+ The wide receivers did little in this game, however Evans' 32-yarder and Aiken's 54-yarder off a flea-flicker were very nice. Moulds had two key penalties back-to-back on the Bills' second drive and played average. Moulds also had an offensive pass interference call and Evans had a holding call.

TE: A Mark Campbell continues to remain one of my favorite Bills. He is a package tight end that can do it all as witnessed on Sunday. I reiterate, he is one of the better all-around TEs in the league. He led the Bills with 4 receptions on Sunday, three of which were touchdowns. At least one of which on an underthrown ball.

OL: C The Bills simply could not come close to dominating this game via their running game which really should not have been difficult to do vs. this poor and depleted Ram defense. Pass protection was decent, but again, not exactly vs. the Steel Curtain here. The offensive line had numerous penalties. The offense had one single decent quarter and that was the 2nd quarter. They played poorly throughout the rest of the game.

DL: A The defensive line was superb today with one of its better performances, if not the best, on the season. They and the linebackers were the primary reasons for the stymieing of the Ram rushing game. They only generated a single sack and as a foursome were not so effective in pass rush, but they shut down the Rams two-pronged rushing attack. The unit still needs help to generate sacks and pressure opposing QBs, but having had a sizeable lead set up by the special teams early in the second half allowed it to take chances and risks. Adams logged an interception. Ryan Denney had the unit's only sack. He also had a roughing-the-passer penalty.

LB: A. The linebackers were stellar. Spikes played very well and logged an interception. Posey played solidly in spite of not having had the numbers. Fletcher gave his usual solid performance.

DB: B- The secondary was much better in run support and in blitzes than it was in coverage. Five of six sacks on the day were made by defensive backs. Milloy had three, McGee had one, and Greer had one. Clements and the DBs had numerous penalties. McGee logged an interception and played very well as a CB in addition to returning kicks. The inability of the Rams to pass was more due to constant pressure up front with the Bills maintaining a hefty lead, than it was due to pass coverage which was its usual not-so-marvelous self. .

Coaching: C Too many trick plays and a lack of improvement by the offense just don't permit a higher grade. On the 54-yard pass on a flea flicker on 3rd-and-19, McGahee barely got off the toss back and Humpty came within a fraction of a second of getting sacked. That is simply too close and a sack or worse yet, a sack/fumble would have been equally disastrous as the outcome of the play was successful and could very well have reversed the outcome of this game at that time. It was as close to disaster as it was to success.

Had the Rams capitalized on that, it would have either given them a score or set them up in the Bills' red zone. Such a play given the Bills' offense, is far too risky for this team. Lady luck was blinking her baby blues at the Bills to be sure. To date more of Mularkey's trick plays have ended with less-than-favorable results than with favorable ones easily. I was warned about this from an avid Steeler fan. Solid football should not require such plays. Given that it resulted in the team's single longest offensive play of the day, it certainly does little to ease the questions regarding the offense.

The primary reason why the Bills defense did so well today was because the Bills led by 14 points early in the third quarter due to a long touchdown return by Freddie/Jonathon Smith placing the ball on the Rams doorstep for a T-Ball style touchdown as well as a punt return for an 86-yard touchdown thereby allowing the defense to take risks and pressure Bulger and the Ram passing attack up front. This they did with a tenacity unseen to date this season.

This Ram defense is the worst in the league in generating interceptions and among the bottom third in sack generation. McGahee, if he is anything close to what many believe he is, should have easily had a much better day. But again, this offense vs. this woeful Ram defense should have been able to move the ball much more effectively than 12 carries for 39 yards through 42 minutes in this one. Most teams that the Rams have played have done much better, often in St. Louis, and teams such as Arizona and Miami played equally well in spite of having nothing near the offensive talent on their teams that the Bills have on paper.

The special teams either scored or all but scored 17 of the team's 37 points with the defense setting up another 10 points with drives beginning at midfield. Considering that, this Bills offense did little more than it has all season long. When one considers that the Ram defense is not good, this game did not exactly hammer home a statement that the offense has come around. It should have performed much, much better than it did if real offensive improvement has truly come about.

The special teams scored 7, set up a touchdown at the Rams 5, set up the O for a field goal with the ball already within field goal range, set up a second on the fringe of field goal territory and set up another TD producing drive at the Bills 49, midfield. The Bills scored only 7 points on drives originating within their own 30-yard line.

Overall: B- The problem all season has been the offense, not the special teams or defense. In fact, it is incredible the amount of support that this team gets for its offense from the D and special teams. It truly is. If the Bills had even a mediocre defense, they would be a 10-6 team and 7-3 or so presently.

Offense: C- The Ram D was ranked as such entering this game:

Rush D: 29th
Pass D: 21st
Yardage D: 29th
Scoring D: 23rd

The Ram D is not good. Given that, the offense was largely unimpressive. The Dolphins, also at home vs. St. Louis, scored touchdowns on drives beginning at their own 26-yard line, their own 31, the Ram 48, and the Ram 47. The Dolphins scored 31 offensive points on five drives totaling 287 yards. The Dolphins were led by Jay Fiedler and Sammy Morris.

The Bills managed touchdowns on drives beginning at their own 29-yard line, their own 49, and the Ram 5. The Bills scored 30 offensive points on drives totaling 273 yards.

The Bills should have been able to do much, much more offensively against this woeful Ram defense playing it's fourth-string CB on one side at one point and with a secondary no better than the banged up secondary of the Patriots last week yet without a front-7 anything close to what the Pats' put forth last week and coaching not coming close to that of the Patriots.

Of six drives having begun within the Bills' own 40-yard line, they managed to score only one touchdown while averaging 15 yards per drive elsewhere with one drive stalling at the Ram 3-yard line resulting in a field goal. Other than that the other four drives averaged 4-yards per drive. They should have been able to move the ball with far more ease than they did on Sunday vs. the Rams, a team with a pathetic defense and one that was allowing an average of nearly 140 yards rushing per game.

The offense had only 108 net yards in the second half and managed more than 14 net yards on any given drive only once, on a drive begun at the Ram 49-yard line and ended with a field goal with nearly all of the net yardage coming on Willis McGahee's 41-yard run and two runs by Travis Henry for 5-yards apiece after the holding penalty having been enforced on McGahee's long run.

Defense: A- A weak first quarter on a slow start, however tops after that. The front-7 was dominant in what was easily the most entertaining game to date.

Special Teams: A+ The Bills may currently possess the best special teams of any team that the Bills have ever fielded regarding the return game. The Bills lead the league in TD returns, have one of the top punters in the league, and have had more points set up by the special teams than any that I can remember. To date, the special teams has scored 27 points directly, 15% of the team's total points scored. The defense has added 9. The offense has only scored 49 points, 4 touchdowns and 7 field goals, on drives begun within its own 37-yard line. The offense has scored 64 points, 7 TDs and 5 field goals from within 37-yards of opponents' end zones.

The Good:

Special teams rocked! The Bills would not have won without the assistance of the special teams.

Defense shut down a powerful and versatile Ram rushing attack.

Lindell's kicking was solid.

Campbell was the team's offensive MVP if there is any justice and had a stellar game.

Three interceptions.

Six sacks.

The Bad:

The Bills started slow out of the gates again with Humpty going 4-of-6 for 12 net yards and an interception coupled with 6-for-16 rushing performance from McGahee in the first quarter.

Red zone efficiency was 3-for-7, 3-for-6 in all fairness given the time-expiring last drive.

Third down efficiency was 2-for-11, 18%.

Penalties were critical in this game amassing to a total of 15-for-123 yards.

The Bills simply cannot move the ball and score on drives begun within their own half of the field. Again, only 10 points put up on drives begun within the Bills' own 48-yard line. This is not a problem in any given single game, however it is a recurring theme for the Bills throughout this entire season.

Apparently the Bills do not trust McGahee on third downs. Of McGahee's 20 runs, 15 were on 1st downs, three on 2nd down, and only two on 3rd downs with one of the two having been a 3rd-and-16.

Versus a team that has allowed an average rushing output of 140 yards and over 360 yards of total net offense, the Bills tallied 119 rushing yards and less than 300 yards of total net offense, at home.

Time-of-possession was 60% Rams favor.

Of the Bills 12 drives, 8 were of 14 or fewer net yards.

Five of six sacks were by the defensive backs on blitzes.

Two of the team's three interceptions were made by the front-7.


The defensive play-of-the-day was Aaron Schobel's shedding his defender with force, penetrating up-the-middle, and then clothes-lining Marshall Faulk for a key loss of one on 1st-and-goal at the Bills' 2-yard line and setting up the next play with Adams deflection and interception to end the Rams' comeback hopes.

Offensively the Bills still demonstrated an inability to move the ball effectively from within their own half of the field.

Special teams was a terror in this game!

My Take:

While the score of this game seemed impressive, it was the same-old same-old from the offense. The defense and special teams did 80% of the work in putting up the points in this game. Other than the second quarter, the offense did little throughout this game. In fact, the special teams set up the tenacious play of the D by putting the Bills up by 14.

The D was able to leverage that into high-pressure defense rendering the Ram O ineffective, thereby mitigating the need for anything short of nominal offense with no pressure to perform. Nor did it perform in the 2nd half. The 13 second half "offensive" points were set up by a punt return to the Ram 5-yard line giving the O an easy TD; by setting up a field goal already within field goal range via a kickoff fumble recovery; and by tough D and a punt return handing the ball to the Bills' O at the Ram 49 and resulting in a field goal only.

McGahee ran fairly but certainly far from stellar and amassed 100 yards with a 5-yard "push" at the very end of the game to get him to 100 even and with the Bills amassing 119 vs. a team that normally had allowed an average of 140 heading into this game and one that was ranked 29th. Given that the game was in Buffalo, those facts are less than impressive. The offense was very inconsistent which has been the norm throughout this season.

The play of the defense exceeded my expectations immensely as can be seen by the pre-game piece. Having said that, the reason for it was the lead that the special teams gave to the Bills on the two returns totaling 139 yards, once scoring a touchdown, and once setting up the offense at the Ram 5-yard line. This opened things up for the defense front-7 to pressure Bulger and the Ram passing game.

The last six games of the season present somewhat of a test with four of the remaining six on the road beginning next week in Seattle. The test is certainly not the opponents, but the road schedule where the Bills have lost their last six games and 14 of their last 16. Having said that, only two of the six opponents are average or better. The other four teams are a combined 9-31 with two of those teams being 1-9 and Cincy being the best at 4-6 and not good. Losing to San Francisco, Miami, or Cleveland at home is inexcusable. Winning them would be no big statement either. Cincinnati on the road may be somewhat tough, but again, the Bills matchup much better on paper than the Bengals as well.

The only two teams, both of which are headed for the playoffs that are worth much on the remaining schedule are the Seahawks and Steelers. The Hawks are a decent team but certainly far from unbeatable for even a mediocre team. The Steelers are perhaps the hottest team in the league and other than the Eagles and perhaps the Patriots, perhaps the most balanced one from offense to defense. They may however not be playing for much in week 17 and may have a good number of their starters playing limitedly or not at all, saving them for the playoffs.

I cannot remember a Bills team so set up and supported by its special teams as this one has been. Certainly the Tasker-era special teams were superb, but it would make an interesting analysis to contrast the best of that era with that of this season in terms of special teams regarding their efforts in setting up scoring. Had the Bills had last season's special teams, this would be a 1-9 team at present. The level of contribution by the special teams this season is encouraging as well as nothing short of remarkable. If the offense had not regressed and had actually improved, then this team might actually have a legitimate shot at .500 or better.

Lastly, it gets really, really, really, really old when Humpty has a halfway decent game and all the pundits begin to scream "what he can do when he has the time." The special teams (or defense) set up this game for Humpty in spades, again. He had one good quarter and did nothing throughout the other three! He did all of this vs. a bottom-third defense with no pass rush and trailing the other 31 teams in the league for interception production heading into this game. Along with a well below average offensive line, he is and remains the single largest detriment to this team's offense!

If the Bills had two decent offensive linemen, which they could have acquired with the $8 million freed up by releasing Humpty last offseason, along with an average veteran minimum QB such as Jeff Blake, then this team would possibly be challenging New England for the division title the way that it is playing now on special teams. Anyone believing that Humpty is even remotely capable of playing well vs. tough playoff caliber defenses is sorely mistaken. Losman absolutely needs to step in the moment he is ready.

Comments: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net

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